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‘Your Actions Define You – Not Your Age’ Says Teen Upstart Riya Mehta

Meet Riya Mehta, 17-year old rising high school senior and upstart on a path to change the world. She’s part of an elite program, The Knowledge Society (TKS), which has engrained entrepreneurship in thousands of high-potential students since it debuted in Toronto in 2016 and is now expanding globally. Mehta is part of the Toronto cohort and thriving in a Silicon Valley-styled program designed to identify and mentor the world’s future leaders.

Grit Daily News joined 32,000 people online for Collision From Home; even a pandemic didn’t alter the enthusiasm of the speakers and quality of the program. We caught up with Mehta to learn more about the TKS program and some of the advanced initiatives she’s already played her hand in.

Grit Daily: Tell us more about TKS.

Riya Mehta: Each of us has a different project focus and we occasionally get assigned projects. Some of my family members are alumni of the program and I’ve been in it for nine months now. Year 1 is the Innovator program and Years 2-3 are the Activator program. You learn about exceptional technologies and intern with incredible companies. You are required to attend weekly classes and there is a lot of independent study. Our curriculum is comprehensive where we learn everything from virtual reality (VR) to artificial intelligence (AI) to whatever other tech. We are also coached on soft skills like resiliency and how to build a personal brand. TKS exposes us to every cutting-edge tech that there is. I’ve already done 3-D organ printing for newborns and all kinds of amazing things. TKS gives us an opportunity to learn about what’s going on the real world so that we find our passion and then dive in.  

GD: Why did you want to be part of TKS?

RM: I’m trying to expand my network and originally thought that I wanted to be a doctor like the rest of my family. However, after I was interviewed by one of the founders, I knew immediately that I had to be part of the TKS community who are all like-minded people. The application process is intense and rigorous: they want to make sure that you’re equipped for what’s coming. Although you may not know everything, they want to see that you’re ambitious and interested in going beyond the conventional path of university. Our Toronto TKS chapter has nearly 150 people and we’ll be conducting a virtual program this year due to the pandemic.

GD: What benefits have you derived from the program thus far?

RM: I’ve found best friends in other cities and built life-long connections.

GD: What do you do as part of TKS?

RM: It’s all about hands-on learning and we’ve been spending time in breakout zoom rooms. For the first half of any session, we get the spiel on TKS with a certain skill or mindset which changes weekly. They teach us 20-min how to sessions, then we brainstorm, we view slides, they ask us questions and get us involved in the process, then we do breakouts and have conversations about it. We also do presentations on our own to learn by doing. Our portfolios are important: we write articles, make videos, create interactive workshops and so on. TKS is a lifestyle; it’s not just X number of hours per week. On average, I spend 20 h or more each week. While we’re in-session, we learn then outside of the session we have to do the work. It’s a lot to balance but I select a theme for each day: some days, I grind on my startup, other days I dig into TKS and just block time out. Google calendar is my best friend! What I’ve learned is that discipline is key and balance plus prioritization are important factors.

GD: You’ve already applied what you’ve learned and launched your own thing. Tell us about it.

RM: I recently launched FutureShot Factory with my co-founder Adara Hagman. We built it about give months ago then launched it on Linkedin last month. We don’t see a lot of startup progress in Canada so we’re building a hub to solve issues of human impact interest. We’re developing an education platform for university and high school students with Canadian government and Peace Corps funding. I’m about to do a project with the United nations. The platform will help students figure out what they want to do and educate them on sustainable development goals. We have creative learning modules since nobody wants to read a 50-page .pdf. Our future goal is to make a mentorship directory.

GD: What was your a-ha moment when you knew you had to launch a startup?

RM: It was the moment that I got approved as a student co-op researcher at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital. It was my first experience talking to people with a different perspective than me. I spoke with patients and parents of patients. I came to understand that people live differently than I do. It sparked this new fire in me. Kids my age think motivation is enough, but discipline is a huge part of all this as well and having exposure to others gives you a different kind of motivation. Researching problems and really processing what you’re learning completely changed me. It was my defining moment when I realized that I want to help people less privileged than me.

GD: Has entrepreneurship been something that you’ve been kindling for some time or relatively new for you?

RM: I always wanted to be a doctor because it was the only way I knew how to help people. A lot of my family members are doctors so that’s all that I’ve ever known. It made me want to go into medicine but in a different way. I want to activate a whole generation of doctors in a different way on how to be responsible for someone else’s life.

Riya Mehta

GD: What am I going to read about you 5 years from now?

RM: I’ll be building things that have impact and going to places like India and Africa where I will see my impact first-hand. In 5 years, I want to be fulfilled via the impact I have on others and the world. I’m definitely planning on going to university because I’m an avid learner and want to go through the process of getting a degree. But I’ll have to balance time with TKS and my startup, so I’ll likely be a part-time student. It’s a great way to get educated and schools need to change how they’re teaching but I want to broaden my reach.

GD: What do you want our readers to know?

RM: That you can do anything at any age! It’s cliché but if you can build your network and push through with relentlessness, you can do anything! I always thought that I was destined or good enough for one profession. Your actions and what you want to do defines you, not your age. You can find a way if you want to do it bad enough. Find a mentor; it’s under-rated but I live through my mentors. They are in the industry; they understand things and they educate other people. They become your role models, and anyone can be a role models at any age. Success does not discriminate. If you have a will, there’s a way.

GD: Do you see yourself as a role model?

RM: I do. I’ve had a lot of girls come up to me and share their stories with me. My company will be mostly woman. I do a lot of youth-speaking opportunities and speaking at conferences where young girls come up to me and tell me about my impact and it’s really emotional. I have a long way to go because I need to improve on who I am as a person. I want to be a better role model next year. I’m always improving and growing.

Images provided by Riya Mehta.